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  • Writer's pictureWriters' Block North East

Pitch Your Story in One Sentence

Updated: Nov 28, 2018

So hey, what's your story about?

Oh you know, pain... fear... aggression...

Great! Sounds like a laugh, and themes are important, but occasionally you're going to want to describe the plot of your novel (or screenplay) in a clear, quick and succinct way, for example when someone important like an agent, a movie producer or your mum asks "what are you writing?"

Hot take: if you can't distill your story into a single sentence (also known as a logline), there's a strong possibility that your story lacks clear focus. Writing a logline can help you clarify some key questions, such as: Who is your story about? What do they need to achieve? What do they do about it? And what happens if they fail?

Here is a useful formula for the perfect story-selling logline:

When [a significant event happens], [your protagonist] must [achieve the main objective] or [bad thing will happen].

Using this formula should allow you to convey your story quickly and dynamically. Because it contains four key bits of information for anyone who might be interested:

First, it tells us what the inciting incident is. By which I mean the significant event that kicks off the story. Such as... Tasked with a secret mission by the US government...

Why? It sets the scene, hints at the before-world of your character. You can also use this bit of the sentence to add place and time... in 1936...

Second, tell us who your story is about. We don't really need a name for this, although if your protagonist's name is bold and memorable it can't hurt to include it, but we definitely need a description. Such as... Indiana Jones, a swashbuckling archaeologist...

Why? Because we want to know what kind of story we're talking about. An eighty-something widowed librarian with a passion for crosswords and cake is going to have a very different adventure than an alcoholic ex-cop with anger-management issues and a gun called Barry.

Third, we need to know what the main objective that character will be engaged in. Such as... must travel the world on a quest to find and retrieve the fabled Lost Ark of the Covenant...

Why? This is the meat of your story. What is your protagonist going to achieve? Will they defeat the evil wizard who has cursed the realm of Tdhednvbdlgard? Will they discover who murdered the President? Will they come to terms with the loss of a loved one? What's their mission? And the important word here is MUST. It's IMPERATIVE that they complete their mission. MUST adds urgency and dynamism and interest to any sentence You MUST use MUST.

Fourth, we need to know the stakes. What will happen if your protagonist doesn't complete their main objective. For example... before the Nazis get hold of it and use its awesome power to take over the world.

Why do we need to know the stakes? Because it gives a sense of the importance of the journey to your character. The stakes don't need to be literally Earth-shattering (as they are in Raiders of the Lost Ark) but they need to be potentially devastating to your protagonist, either physically or emotionally. Because if not, then who cares whether they achieve their objective or not?

That formula again:

When [a significant event happens], [your protagonist] must [achieve the main objective] or [bad thing will happen].

Give it a try!

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